Old people often reflect on life and give the younger generations their list of life lessons learned. It is as if experience gives them the credit to give tips to the young on how to live life.
Well, it does! Experience is important and the best thing about it is that it helps develop perspective.
Unfortunately, not all old people with lots of experience have the perspective to give “young ones” and many of their tips are not applicable to the way life happens now. What worked for my parents, who are now in their 80’s, might not work for me or for my children.
Does this mean I cannot learn from them? No! I can learn a lot from them, but it is best to develop my own lessons, because the lessons I learn by myself are the lessons I can live by.
We have all learned many lessons in life, whether we are aware of them or not, and we use them to navigate our life. Think of it as map. We go through life, experience things and draw conclusion about what is the best way to live. On this map, we have ups and downs, we have stop signs, warning signs, speeding signs, pleasant places and scary ones.
These things apply to us, but not necessary to others. This map, including our “conclusions” about life, will determine what destinations we visit throughout our life. Some maps are full of stops signs. Some have lots of highways. Some have more avoidance and warnings, and some have more paths of fun and joy in them.
The challenge we all have is that we do not know why and how our map was formed in the first place. That is because it was not really formed “in the first place”. It is constantly forming, every day, every minute and with every new experience.
Most people think this map is unchangeable and they are not happy with where life has taken them. My coaching clients are courageous enough to say, “I am not happy about where I am and I am ready to change that”. Without the recognition of where they are and the willingness to change, they would find themselves in the same place, same situations, same conflicts, same discomfort and same challenges over and over again. We all do!
Potential with unhappiness
When we are happy with something, we do not need to change. There is a lot of potential for growth in being unhappy. We can increase our confidence and trust in our inner guide once we are sure about the rules we live by based on the lessons we have learned.
For example, if I have learned that blame brings misery and I concluded that “Happiness is a choice”, this conclusion functions as a comfort blanket every time I feel unhappy. With this rule, I take full responsibility for my life and know that I have the power to change it.
Lessons in Life
Here are some things to know about lessons in life:
- Every experience is a life lesson.
- Small things can be life lessons.
- Some of our rules are other people’s lessons. We learned them when we did not know any better from figures of authority in our life.
- Lessons can be good for us. For example, I studied for a test and succeeded and my conclusion is that if I want to pass a test, I need to study. This lesson will make me take control and responsibility over my success.
- Lessons can be bad for us and affect our life badly. For example, my best friend shared my secret and my conclusion is that I should never share my secrets with anyone. This life lesson can bring lots of trouble, create trust issues with people close to me and interferes with my relationships. Before we make something a rule to live by, we should decide when it is applicable, rather than use it all the time.
- A lesson does not have to be right. It serves us or it doesn’t.
- We can change our life if we “unlearn” the lessons that do not serve us.
- To change a lesson, we need to find a better alternative and collect evidence to support it. We do this by being mindful and paying attention.
- We need to evaluate our conclusions in life from time to time and adjust them to “the new us”. Lessons we have learned as children may not apply to us as adults. In fact, most of them do not.
How to examine a life lesson
Here are some ways to consider when evaluating your life lessons. See my examples below on how to examine your lessons from many different aspects:
- What was the event that triggered this conclusion that happiness is a choice and that blaming others will not help me in life? I was in high school, blaming the whole world for my problems. At the end of 10th Grade, I was going to be kicked out of school. When I examined my situation, I realized that blaming did not really take the burden off my shoulders. I blamed others and nothing changed. I was still in a bad place, so blaming felt disempowering. So I swapped it with “I’m in charge of my life. I can make myself happy” and this changed my life.
- Where did I get this lesson? Well, not from my parents. They still blame others for their problems. We all take some of the bad lessons in life from our parents. For example, “If you want to be loved and accepted, you have to do as you are told”. Many people learn this lesson the hard way, through bullying, threats, punishments and, sometimes, physical force. I had some conclusions my parents gave me that did not serve me in life. I changed many of them (some of them are still work in progress).
- Is this a good rule to live by? Does it serve me in life? Does it help me do well? Oh, yes! As I said, it helps me overcome many setbacks and disappointments. Some people do not ask this question and they should. There was a lesson learned and it is not serving them, yet they still hold on to it as a precious thing (“My preciousssss!”).
- Does it mean I can keep the rule 100% of the time? I wish! I find it hard to keep the rule at all times. In my head, I know it serves me and I need to remind myself to use it from time to time. I still blame other people for things in my life, but only for a short time. Sometimes, I blame them in my head, then remind myself to “snap out of it” and remember that I need to make myself happy, no one else. I still keep it as a rule with the hope I can pick it up in the next round.
- If a life lesson is not good for me (like never trusting anyone after a friend’s betrayal), can I change it? Yes! It does not serve me. I need trust in my relationships. I can change it and I want to change it, because it disturbs my relationships with others. So I can change it to “In some circumstances, some people should not be trusted”.
So here is your chance to come up with your list of conclusions that have become signs on your map. Remember, making a list of 100 lessons may take time. The first 10 will come easily. The more you think about it, the deeper you go inside your memories and the harder it gets. The activity you are doing is called “mindfulness” and it is very helpful in changing maps. It happens in four steps:
- Discover the map you have now by identifying your conclusions
- Find the events that have brought you to those conclusions
- Assess if they serve you or not
- Find better alternatives that will serve you
Make sure to write your list down. Start with finding thoughts and beliefs you have now about love, trust, relationships, children, teens, money, work, nature, sport, friends, family, siblings, travel, food, alcohol, clothes, fashion, studying, school, politics, animals, justice, caring, volunteering, health, doctors, games, TV, computer, technology, aging, success, business, time, sleep, power, leadership, kindness, aggression, war, peace, religion, God, church, conflict, communication, languages, countries, humanity, global warming, death, birth, babies, fun, adventure… (I hope you see that the list is endless).
Next to every life lesson, try to find the event that led you to your conclusion and check if it serves you in life or not. Focus on those that do not serve you and change them. Write them in a way that will allow them to change, possibly over time. Write them in a way that allows the experiences in your life to support the better alternative.
I changed the “trust” conclusion form “never trust anyone” to “some people are not trustworthy” or “the fact that one friend shared my secret does not mean everyone will” or “there are still people in my life I can trust with my secrets”. This new conclusion allows me to experience intimacy with others that the first conclusion “never trust anyone” would not.
I hope this list will help you update your map and turn it into a sophisticated GPS that will take you to happy places.
Lots of love,
This post is part of the series Make a List:
- Make a list: List Making
- Make a list: About Myself
- Make a list: Friends and Friendships
- Make a list: My Lifetime
- Make a list: Things I am Happy about
- Make a list: Childhood Memories
- Make a list: Ways to say “I love you!”
- Make a list: What I like about me
- Make a list: Things to ask for my birthday
- Make a list: Improve My Life
- Make a list: Things to tell my parents
- Make a list: Beliefs about Money
- Make a list: Feelings I Want to Feel
- Make a list: If I Could Live Forever
- Make a list: Beliefs about Kids
- Make a list: Beliefs about Kids cont.
- Make a list: Events that have shaped my life
- Make a list: Ways to be kind
- Make a list: Be More Productive
- Make a list: Mistakes (and what I can learn from them)
- Make a list: Expectations
- Make a list: Beliefs about Traveling
- Make a list: Rules I Follow
- Make a list: Good Parenting Qualities
- Make a list: Excuses
- Make a list: Quotes to live by
- Make a list: How to use my time better
- Make a list: If I were Santa Claus
- Make a list: If I had one year to live
- Make a list: Things that Make Me Happy
- Make a list: Movies I loved
- Make a List: My Fears
- Make a List: Find your Happy-ism
- Make a List: Inspiring People
- Make a List: Books that have changed my life
- Make a list: Inspiring Movies
- Make a List: Things to be Grateful for
- Make a List: Ronit’s Gratitude List
- Make a list: Life Lessons Learned